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Friday Morning

Commission on a way Forward Report (Click here for Tom Berlin's PowerPoint presentation)

  The Rev. Tom Berlin

The Rev. Tom Berlin, pastor of Floris UMC, Herndon, and member of the Commission on Way Forward, gave a presentation at 9 a.m.

He said materials from the commission will be available in July in printed form. The report will be translated into all languages and be released at the same time.

Berlin shared information that has been made public. One of the issues before us is the phrase in the Discipline that says “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” That was put in the Discipline in 1972. The state now says same-sex marriage is legal. Clergy in the United Methodist Church cannot participate in these marriages. There is also the statement that “self-avowed practicing homosexuals” cannot be ordained. Many feel the church is compromised when it comes to reaching those in the LGBTQ community. Some would say as long as we are not affirming people we are not reaching all people.

“We have another issue where people are actually leaving the church over this,” Berlin said. “It’s the ‘leaving of the church’ that is one of the  issues before us.” Some people are leaving because some clergy are performing same-sex marriages. Some people are leaving because clergy cannot perform same-sex marriages.

“This has possibly been one of the most Christian exercises I’ve ever been through,” Berlin said. He said all the meetings of the commission were heavy into Bible study and prayer.

Berlin admitted that he hoped they could find the one solution that would bring peace to everyone. “We are everywhere. We are in red and blue states. In African nations, homosexuality is illegal. In six of those nations, it can be punished with the death penalty.” Berlin said this changes the conversation considerably. Eastern and Western Germany are different. It’s ludicrous to suggest that “all younger people think alike, but Gallup polls show younger people are more progressive."

People will have their own definitive answer. But it’s not the definitive answer for a lot of settings, both traditional and progressive.

In February 2019 delegates will go to a four-day General Conference.

There are different ways a vote could go. Do nothing. Leave the Book of Discipline the way it is.

 Or the contextual plan –the One Church Plan -- you can do different things in different places. Berlin used the example of traditional versus contemporary music in worship. Some churches use only traditional, some use only contemporary, some use both. And the use of these music types has changed over the years. And we also have to address the mission field in different geographical locations.

So there is a polarity. Is it law? Or is it grace? Faith and works.. it’s a polarity. In the work of the commission, “We had to do a lot of work in polarities," Berlin said.

Do you want your church to be centralized or decentralized? There is a center around the Book of Discipline but churches are still very different. Do we want to push the pendulum to be more centralized or decentralized?

The One Church Plan would allow for churches to have a “generous unity.” It would remove the restrictive language about homosexuality but would leave to individual clergy to decide what weddings they would or wouldn’t do. It also doesn’t require an annual conference to do what it does not want to do. A conference could not stop a pastor from performing a same-sex marriage. “This is not a plan that real progressive people love,” Said Berlin. “It’s a plan that centrists are okay with. Here’s a problem. If you’re a deeply traditional person, it’s not acceptable.” The Traditional Plan would strengthen the current wording in the Book of Discipline. That would cause people in the middle to leave. How many people would leave? Nobody knows.

Making change has consequences. Making no change has consequences.

What type of denomination will we be? Berlin said he can’t look into the future and figure that out.

Timeline: Report will be shared in July. Delegates in Virginia who will attend General Conference will look at the plan this summer and fall and General Conference will occur in February.

The Council of Bishops has recommended the One Church Plan.

A time of question and answer followed.

More information about the work of the Commission on a Way Forward is available on the Virginia Conference website at


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